I can only imagine that a flattering movie review from writer and spiritual entrepreneur Deepak Chopra comes as manna from heaven for a major contender in the competition for the Oscars. But, I hope Terrence Malick does not read Chopra’s recent take on his film “The Tree of Life”.


Chopra starts out making an important point about the Malick masterpiece.

What’s gotten ignored is the spiritual argument that Terence Malick, the writer-director, clearly poses.

Sadly, Mr. Chopra goes on to misrepresent the argument Malick “clearly poses”, by repeating one of the most egregious and simplistic errors commonly hurled at the sacred texts of the Christian faith.

Yet the entire story is about Jack’s spiritual confusion, because his Job-like father and his saintly mother stand at two poles. An Old Testament God pulls him one way, a New Testament God the other.

I am not sure what “Old Testament” Chopra is reading. But, it cannot be the same Old Testament with which I am familiar.

The picture of God I find in the Old Testament, sounds a lot closer to the God I read of in the New Testament. I wonder if Mr. Chopra has read:

The Lord passed before him, and proclaimed,
‘The Lord, the Lord,
a God merciful and gracious,
slow to anger,
and abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness,
keeping steadfast love for the thousandth generation,
forgiving iniquity and transgression and sin. (Exodus 34:6,7)

For the Lord God is a sun and shield;
   he bestows favour and honour.
No good thing does the Lord withhold
   from those who walk uprightly. (Psalm 84:11)

The Lord upholds all who are falling,
   and raises up all who are bowed down.
The eyes of all look to you,
   and you give them their food in due season.
You open your hand,
   satisfying the desire of every living thing.
The Lord is just in all his ways,
   and kind in all his doings. (Psalm 145:14-17)

I knew that you are a gracious God and merciful, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love, and ready to relent from punishing. (Jonah 4:2)

It was no messenger or angel
   but his presence that saved them;
in his love and in his pity he redeemed them;
   he lifted them up and carried them all the days of old.     (Isaiah 63:9)

As with the Bible, Terrence Malick’s film presents a vastly more nuanced picture than Deepak Chopra’s dualistic portrayal implies.

Mr. O’Brien is not a cardboard cutout, legalistic, angry, vengeful father. He is a man trapped in the expectations and demands he perceives his culture to be imposing upon him. He struggles desperately to reach out to his family. He longs to be generous and loving, but finds the territory of intimacy and gentleness foreign and confusing terrain.

In the same way, as much as Mrs. O’Brien does offer a balance to her strict and demanding husband, she is not portrayed as an idealized vision of flawless grace. In “The Tree of Life” it is during Mr. O’Brien’s absence that family life runs most dangerously close to being swamped by the forces of chaos that lurk at the edges of life.

Terrence Malick does not present a dualistic either/or vision of life. It is not free expansive grace or narrow constricting law. “The Tree of Life” offers a balanced vision of the complementary forces of life in which the need for structure and the liberating power of grace balance each other.

Even at the end of his movie review, Deepak Chopra remains trapped in his dualistic view of the universe, coming close to grasping the fullness of Malick’s vision, but then pulling away and missing the point.

Malick provides a mystical ending in which the O’Brien family is united on the shores of an eternal sea, and the film’s final image is of a bridge, implying that this world is connected to the next.

Malick’s film does not portray two separate worlds in which “this world is connected to the next.” He portrays one world. It is a world that is permeated with the pain and the beauty of life. Malick shows a world in which the reality of suffering becomes the canvas upon which the portrait of beauty is painted. He touches the deep truth that all things are held and all things have the capacity to radiate truth and light.

Malick’s unitive vision of a creation in which every aspect reveals the beauty at the heart of life does not fit easily or comfortably into the simple view of light separated from darkness that is characteristic of the dominant dualistic  western vision. But, it is a rich and deep vision that has room to allow the true beauty of existence to unfold.